When the 2021 low season kicked off with John Elway relinquishing his duties as Denver Broncos GM, most local and national media outlets predicted Drew Lock’s days when the starting quarterback was numbered. After all, Lock comes off a very up and down Year 2 and lost his biggest supporter behind the scenes in Dove Valley.
Or did he?
After all, Elway stayed on as president of football operations, meaning that until his contract expires in 2022, the staff will eventually retire from him. George Paton promised to be “ involved in every deal ” upon arrival at the Mile High City, but as we get closer and closer to the NFL draft, the top-5 board is set and the veteran market around the league has fallen to almost nothing.
Last week, the San Francisco 49ers maneuvered up the draft board to pick No. 3, trading with the Miami Dolphins to get their hands on a quarterback. The board’s final QB was Sam Darnold, who the New York Jets shared with the Carolina Panthers on Monday, according to ESPNs Adam Schefter.
While many fans and media members yearned for Paton to pursue Darnold, there was never enough empirical evidence to suggest that the former top-3 draft pick and ex-USC superstar was a clear upgrade from Lock. Denver 7Troy Renck confirmed Paton’s views on the subject last week.
Why even give up a sixth round pick, let alone a second and fourth rounder for Darnold next year, which appears to be damaged goods in every way? Some fans might say that Lock has its own share of warts and dents, but at least it’s the Broncos’ warts and dents. It’s the devil you know …
What’s left for Paton when it comes to upgrading the QB chamber or bringing in a replacement for Lock? Nothing in the NFL veteran market unless something shook up with Deshaun Watson in Houston, but that situation was almost unsustainable at first (due to the exorbitant cost of acquiring him through trade) and became radioactive when the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in March.
In every way, Watson is persona non grata to Paton in Denver. It all comes down to the design, for those in Broncos Country who are still craving a lock replacement.
Only one option remains
Really, to narrow it down further, it boils down to the No. 4 overall choice in the design currently held by the Atlanta Falcons. If and unless Paton wraps up a transaction that will catch the eye of new Falcons GM Terry Fontenot, the QB pickings will be small for the Broncos at pick # 9. Maybe Alabama’s Mac Jones will be there. But talk about warts …
Trading up to # 4 is the only way to guarantee that Denver will become one of the top 4 signal callers in its class, including BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
But the more time that passes as we get closer to draft day, the more it looks like Paton feels a lot more comfortable with Lock as the in-Sharpie starter for 2021. If that is indeed Paton’s vision of Lock, and it seems increasingly likely, that confidence is likely informed by the young QB getting a full offseason in Pat Shurmur’s plan and having the same offensive coordinator in the back-to-back years for the first time since his second-to-junior seasons in Missouri .
I have tried to tell the readers about it Mile High Huddle and listeners of the Get close to podcast since January; if Drew Lock isn’t the under-center starter in next fall’s season opener, it will be upset. Vic Fangio needs to win now and especially against starting quarterbacks, Lock is the best option to make that happen.
If Denver gets the Week 11 through Week 17 version of Lock in 2021, even as a floor, the Broncos will be a factor. If Lock is the Week 14 version of himself, the Broncos will be a sensation. If Lock is the Weeks 7 through 10 version of himself in 2021, Fangio will be on his way to the unemployment line with probably another sub-.500 finish in the cards.
It seems clear that Paton is more likely to expect a combination of options 1 and 2. The tools and features are there for Lock, and he’s gotten the live bullet exposure and experience. Soon the time will come when he must put everything together on the battlefield and produce a consistent QB product that the Broncos can count on, and one that poses no threat to turn the ball over at every dropback.
If the Broncos roll back with Lock and it fails, Paton will have the chance to start all over again with a new quarterback acquisition in 2022 and / or a new head coach hand-selected by him. We won’t know the answers for many months, but if you trust Paton, based on how you saw him maneuvering in free power (which was outright lauded), then take it one step further and trust that if Lock is The Guy again in 2021, the Broncos’ new GM knows what he’s doing.
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